449px-red-tailed_hawk_in_flightThe wonderful thing about farming biodynamically and trying to keep this spread filled with natively appropriate plantings, is that the whole place has become one big healthy organism. When the balance tips slightly in one direction, something moves in to even things out. We started with forty acres that had apparently never been planted or had much done to it other than the addition of an access road. There is some evidence, judging from some very ancient barbed wire, that part of the land was used to graze cattle. Still, it wasn’t a lush paradise (or as lush as anything can be in semi-arid Sonoma.) What had happened to most of the land was a devastating fire thirty years ago. That took out a lot of the trees in many of the areas and left much of the land vulnerable to the Chamise (also called Greasewood), scrub and brush that follows a fire and chokes out anything else. While such scrub can make good habitat for small critters, it’s also explosively flammable — so you risk the same fire all over again.

Our man, John the Baptist, cutting Chamise. We’ve left more than enough for habitat, but freed the oaks and other native plants from its insidious grasp in other areas.

We’ve been clearing out some of the brush and, where we found oak trees, they’ve responded gratefully. Then, up where we put the vineyards, we planted an extensive Insectarium. This is a large swath of native flowers and plants that offer year ’round color and food to beneficial local birds, bees and other insects. It’s been like a population explosion around here. Every year, we’ve seen more and more songbirds, hummingbirds, dragonflies, bees and other wildlife than we did when the land was empty (well, empty of us anyway.) We’ve even seen a mini population boom of some endangered species like the Tree Frog and the Giant Pacific Salamander.

While we’ve tried to keep everything in balance, some critters seem to come then go, only to reappear sporadically. When we are building something or using chainsaws to cut brush, the deer slink off to the local State Preserve, only to come back once the ruckus dies down. The place was crawling with rattlesnakes, but the barking of terriers seems to have caused them to leave the neighborhood. The latter has actually been a bit of a problem. Although I occasionally catch sight of a discarded snakeskin — like the bobcat, the Mountain Lion and our coyotes — these predators seem to be keeping a low profile recently. For the last few months, that’s allowed a population explosion of moles and gophers. While the larger predators seem to be edging back in (at least judging by the poo that I’m finding around the place), a new meat eater has suddenly shown up with a very big appetite.

Photo (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man)

Photo (c)2007 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man)

It’s a Red Tailed Hawk (or Chicken Hawk as he’s sometimes erroneously known) and he’s letting everyone know there’s a new sheriff in town. We first noticed him circling around the house. Then he started zooming past the doors and windows of the barn. I’d like to say that some of these hawk pictures are mine, but all we’ve been able to see is a red tailed blur that streaks by followed by his KRRRRR-EEEEEE call, then a sharp squeak as another rodent is airlifted to an avian dinner table. I’ve spotted him in the sky with his tail on display (but no camera to record it), but I’m so sure of my identification that I can attest, like Hamlet, that I can “tell a hawk from a handsaw.” There can’t be another local bird that is such a distinctive killing machine. In fact, until our coyotes, our bob cat and Joaquin the Mountain Lion get back on the job, seems one Red Tailed Hawk can handle all their critter eradication duties by himself. In the last few days, in addition to patrolling the barn area, our hawk has also been circling the vineyards in the morning and evening. Already, the incidence of new mole holes has decreased dramatically. Can you put these guys on salary?

Im getting the impression Red Tailed Hawks are the Terriers of the Air, big predators in a small package.

I’m getting the impression Red Tailed Hawks are the Terriers of the Air, big predators in a small package.

From everything I’m reading about Red Tailed Hawks, they are pretty much the Terriers of the Air. A whole lot of predator in a relatively small package. I just hope our hawk recognizes a kindred spirit and leaves Oscar and Lucy alone. I’ve seen him circle us as we walk through the vineyard. I’m only half serious about the misidentification. I’ve seen my share of Foghorn Leghorn cartoons and know young Chicken Hawks can sometimes get confused.

So to welcome this guy to the neighborhood — and to encourage some kinship with the other preferred denizens — help me give him a name. See, no matter how fierce the predator, I’ve found that once you name it, it’s practically a pet. Just ask Bob our Bob Cat and Joaquin the Mountain Lion!

So far here are some names I’m toying with:

Henery Hawk (an homage to the Foghorn Leghorn Chicken Hawk)

Kegger (since one of our favorite local microbrews is Red Tail Ale)

Sonoma Red (has a good cowboy-like ring to it)

Kyril (very Russian, which is somewhat appropriate as the Russians had their southern-most US outpost in Sonoma. This name is also close to the sound a Red Tailed Hawk makes)

Update: Now there appear to be two Red Tails, hunting and flying together. So I guess we’re looking for male and female names.

In the meantime, if you are unfamiliar with Merrie Melodies version of a Chicken Hawk, refresh yourself with this:

Here’s more copyright info on the hawk pictures included in this post.

“I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.”
Hamlet, Act II, scene ii